If you want innovation then think about these two words – pain and slack. They can lead you to innovation success.
Wherever there is a pain there is a need for innovation. So if you are looking to create new products or services look for the pain points. Study your customers and their everyday activities. Where do they have difficulties in using the product or services that you and your competitors provide? What inconveniences them? What costs them time and effort? What slows them down? What is awkward or clumsy?
People have been taking their pet dogs for a walk for as long as the dog has been man’s best friend. In all that time people threw sticks or balls for their dogs to chase and retrieve. It seems a simple process with no pain point. Then some product designer noticed that it was awkward for people who did not throw well. Also there was the inconvenience of picking up a muddy ball. So the ball thrower was invented. It is a flexible piece of rubber that allows you to grasp a ball in the device and then to easily flick it a fair distance. Now when you go for a walk in the park you see many people using their ball thrower to amuse and distract their dog. Find the pain point and you have the starting point for an innovation that people need.
If you want your team to be creative and to turn creative ideas into prototypes then you have to cut them some slack. People who are working flat out all day on their normal work cannot find the time or energy to experiment with promising ideas but that is exactly what is needed for innovation to happen. You do not get innovation for free. You have to allocate time, people and money. You should allocate some time for your staff for the following activities; thinking about problems, well-facilitated brainstorm meetings, research , experimentation, prototyping and testing. 3M were leaders in this area with their famous precept that any engineer or scientist could spend 15% of his or her time on any research topic they wanted. They did not need to get their manager’s permission to pursue an interest but they did need to keep their manager informed. Google go further with their renowned allowance of 20% of time for all employees to explore any business topic that interests them. You do not have to be equally generous – a smaller amount of time can pay dividends. Give your people some clear challenges that need creative thinking and then give them some slack time to tackle these problems. You will be surprised at the results.
Increase your innovation capability by focussing on pain and creating some slack.
Paul Sloane writes and speaks on innovation and lateral thinking. He is the author of The Leader’s Guide to Lateral Thinking Skills published by Kogan-Page.